EU tightens GM food labelling requirements

The European Commission recently introduced new rules governing the introduction of genetically modified crops into the Europe Union. The new directive, 2001/18/EC, which replaces a previous directive, 90/220/EEC, places tighter restrictions on GM crops and the sale of food containing GM ingredients.

Directive 2001/18/EC strengthens the previous legislation, in particular with respect to a more detailed pre-market scientific evaluation of GMOs and improved transparency throughout the different stages of the authorization procedure and subsequent handling of GMOs. The directive also calls for a comprehensive risk assessment to ensure GM crops do not pose a threat to human health or the environment. The new rules also emphasize public input in the approval process of new GM crops. Further transparency will be ensured by mandatory labelling and traceability of food products derived from GM crops at all stages of production and distribution.

Wallström says the new rules, provides " a strong basis for a transparent and responsible way of governing the use of GMOs."

The Commission hopes the new rules will pave the way to lift the moratorium on approvals of new GM crops in the EU. However, recent meetings of EU farm ministers failed to come to up with an agreement on setting a threshold for adventitious presence of GM material in food and feed. The European Commission wants to set the threshold at one percent, but farm ministers from Belgium, Austria, Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg want to set zero tolerance. The European Parliament has proposed a threshold of 0.5 percent.

In addition, the farm ministers failed to agree on the threshold for GMO contamination of seed for planting. A threshold of 0.7 percent had been proposed, but environmental groups say this threshold is not sufficient. Despite the disagreements, the EU's food and consumer protection commissioner, David Byrne, told Reuters that lifting the moratorium is inevitable though he wasn't sure when.

The moratorium has been a source of friction between the United States and the EU, costing the U.S. an estimated $200 million in corn exports. The U.S. has threatened the EU with World Trade Organization action, but now aims to isolate the EU in its position against GM crops.

Dan McGuire, a representative with the American Corn Growers Association, says the U.S. is isolating itself. "The U.S groups that operate as cheerleaders for the biotech companies are still trying to paint Europe into a corner on the GMO issue when Japan and various other countries around the world are just as concerned about GMOs," he says. (Sources: The Guardian, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Associated Press,
(November 2002)